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Pagsasalaysay ni Mary Jane, nalalapit na

Muling dininig sa Regional Trial Court sa Baloc, Sto Domingo, Nueva Ecija ang dalawang kasong nakasampa sa dalawang illegal recruiter na sina Cristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment na isinampa ng tatlong biktima na kapitbahay ng mga suspect, gayundin ang kasong isinampa naman ni Mary Jane Veloso na Illegal Recruitment, Human Trafficking at Estafa sa mga ito.

Sa darating na Enero 30, 2020 ay ang itinakdang promulgation o pagbaba ng hatol para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment. Sa darating na Disyembre naman ang posibleng pagsasaayos ng pagtestigo ni Mary Jane para sa kaso na kanyang isinampa.

Hiling ng pamilya na huwag na sanang umapela pa ang mga defendant sa pagtestigo ni Mary Jane upang mapabilis na ang kaso. Panawagan na rin ng abogado sa gubyerno ng Indenesia na bigyan na ng amnestiya o pardon si Mary Jane upang makauwi na sa Pilipinas. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

Kaanak at tagasuporta, nanawagang payagang mag-testimonya si Mary Jane Veloso

Nagsagawa ng press conference ang mga kaanak, abugado at taga-suporta ni Mary Jane Veloso para magbigay ng update kaugnay sa deposition testimony niya sa Indonesia.

Kamakailan ay pinayagan ng Korte Suprema na magbigay ng deposition si Veloso mula sa kanyang piitan sa Indonesia. Ayon sa kanyang abugado, malaking bagay ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema para mapatunayang biktima ng human trafficiking si Veloso.

Nagpasalamat ang ama ni Mary Jane na si Cesar sa mga abugado at grupong patuloy na tumutulong sa kanyang anak. Hangad niya na makalaya na si Mary Jane at makapiling ang kanyang mga anak.

Nakatakda sa Oktubre 28 sa Cabanatuan RTC ang huling pagdinig ng prosekusyon laban sa mga illegal recruiter ni Veloso na sina Maria Kristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao.

Si Veloso ay nakakulong sa Indonesia nang mahigit siyam na taon sa kasong pagpuslit ng ilegal na droga at nahatulan ng death penalty. Subalit noong 2015 ay ipinatigil ng gobyerno ng Indonesia ang pagbitay sa kanya matapos mahuli sa Pilipinas ang mga recruiter ni Veloso. (Music: News Background Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Peoples’ lawyers vow to continue defending human rights ‘alongside the poor and oppressed’

Public interest lawyers vowed to persevere in defending human rights as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) holds its two-day national congress starting today in Manila.

Themed “Conquering Challenges in People’s Lawyering: Unifying Our Ranks to Strengthen the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights in the Face of Adversity,” the country’s top human rights lawyers said they are not fazed with the threats they face, even if some of their colleagues have paid for their advocacy with their very lives.

“We will win this battle against impunity because we are on the side of truth and the people,” NUPL chairperson Neri Colmenares said in his speech.

“In the line of fire is always a place of honor,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, quoting the late activist Lean Alejandro, told NUPL 5th Congress delegates in encouraging them against harassment.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his keynote speech praised the NUPL as the country’s most passionate human rights defenders even in the face of harassments and being in the line of fire.

“You do not only define public interest lawyering, you live it,” Leonen said.

Leonen added it is time the country recognizes the NUPL’s brand of lawyering and its passion for justice.

Established in 2007, the NUPL has grown from 89 to around 500 members spread across more than 50 chapters nationwide, taking on the most celebrated human rights cases in more than decade.

Lawyers for the oppressed

In his opening remarks, NUPL president Edre Olalia said the NUPL remains committed to peoples’ lawyering “for the demands and aspirations of the Filipino people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”

“We are the lawyers of the exploited, persecuted and marginalized. We are in the legal forefront in the fight against impunity. We are the ones on the ground as we fight in the legal trenches and foxholes,” he added.

Olalia called on his colleagues to close ranks and fight back against “vicious attacks, weaponization of the law by a blitzkreig of legal attacks.”

The guests in the event’s opening ceremonies include Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan, mothers of University of the Philippines students Karen and Sherlyn abducted by retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito Palparan.

Also present were Raymond Manalo, Celia Veloso and mothers of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s  drug war.

In her speech, Veloso said their family could not contain their joy when the NUPL successfully convinced the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane’s diposition, giving them hope the overseas Filipino worker may still be saved from execution in Indonesia.

Other guests included former Senator Rene Saguisag, Ateneo Law School dean Antonio Laviña and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Egon Cayosa.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno gave the welcome remarks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Despite filing of charges, military refuses civilian jail for Alexa Pacalda

They could not force her to say she indeed is a surrendered New People’s Army (NPA) fighter, so criminal charges were finally filed against human rights worker Alexa Pacalda at the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office last Saturday.

Seven days after her supposed arrest last September 14 in General Luna town and long before the 36-hour deadline for filing of criminal charges, the 201st Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army (IBPA) charged Alexa with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in what the military obviously planned to be a secret inquest proceeding last September 21. Her lawyer and family were not informed.

But it did not turn out exactly the way the military wanted it.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers’ (NUPL) Atty. Kristina Conti was nearby, giving a lecture on human rights reporting to dozens of Southern Tagalog journalists, when she found about the inquest proceeding. Journalists who attended the training received a tip that the young human rights defender would be taken to Lucena City from the military camp in Calauag town where she is detained. After a phone call from her NUPL colleague and Alexa’s lawyer Maria Sol Taule, Conti rushed to the Quezon Provincial Capitol compound where the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office is located.

She was met by Alexa’s father Arnulfo and Karapatan-Quezon Chapter colleagues, gratitude and relief on their faces. Conti’s entrance at the fiscal’s office, however, was different. The three lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) tried to hide it but betrayed their surprise by asking where she came from, appearing all of a sudden when the inquest should have been secret.

A local activist (left) takes a selfie with a military intelligence operative (second from left) at the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office)

The mood inside the old and stuffy building became tenser when Alexa’s fellow activists called out the many intelligence operatives who kept on taking photos and videos of them. “Kanina ka pa kuha nang kuha ng photo ko, a. Para di ka na mahirapan, selfie na lang tayo,” said one to an intelligence officer in civilian clothes. (You’ve been taking lots of photos of me. Why don’t we take a selfie to make it easier for you?) The latter tried to play it cool and obliged but the mood did not lighten. Pretty quickly, more intelligence operatives, four of them, entered the building, apparently to assist their comrades.

Arnulfo Pacalda (left) listening to military personnel inside the Quezon Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

All the while, Arnulfo and his young son with him kept their cool. As the lawyers were wrangling inside the fiscal’s room, they were seated at a distance. At exactly three o’clock, Arnulfo’s phone sounded, reciting the Catholic’s Three O’Clock Prayer. He stepped out of the room, went to a corner and finished the prayer with his head bowed.

Inside the prosecutor’s office, Conti was still being quizzed by the most senior of the three JAGO officers. She was asked if she is a local lawyer, explaining her sudden appearance. She in turn badgered her counterpart where Alexa was so she could consult with her client. The soldiers refused, even when the fiscal herself asked. “She is nearby. But there are security concerns,” the soldiers cryptically said. “But a lawyer must have access to her client, doesn’t she?” Conti shot back. The fiscal agreed and Alexa was finally brought inside.

Arnulfo and Alexa embrace at the Lucena City Regional Trial Court lobby.

Arnulfo and Alexa’s younger brother rushed to hug her as she entered the building. The embraces were long and tight. Beside them, Conti was smiling. When it was her time to speak to her, Conti asked, “Naaalala mo ako?” to which Alexa replied “Yes” and smiled back. Alexa had been Conti’s paralegal on some human rights cases they both collaborated on in the recent past.

Alexa and her younger brother embrace inside the Lucena RTC building.

Alexa looks nowhere near that of the female NPA fighter toting an AK-47 assault rifle and undergoing military training on the photos being shared on social media. (The photos appeared online only when Alexa’s video was released by her lawyer refuting giddy claims by her captors they had another surrenderee.) Alexa is hardly five feet tall and is very slight of built.

Arnulfo and Alexa Pacalda outside the prosecutor’s office.

Even with Alexa already inside the prosecutor’s office, the JAGO and the soldiers still refused to give Conti time to consult with her and her family in private. What followed were argumentations that went in circles. Finally, with the public prosecutor’s prodding, the JAGO relented and Conti and the Pacaldas were given 15 minutes at a dark corner of the building, surrounded by file cabinets outside of the female toilet.

Atty. Conti and the Pacaldas in a private consultation.

Back at the prosecutor’s office, Alexa was asked by Conti if she indeed signed the so-called surrender papers the JAGO submitted as part of its evidentiary documents. The young prisoner replied, “I do not remember anything.” Conti later told Kodao that even if she did, Alexa was obviously under extreme duress after being captured by the soldiers, tortured with sleep and food deprivation for 30 hours and forced to sign the proffered papers they told her would lead to her freedom. The same was true when her father Arnulfo was made to sign a document the Philippine Army said would help his daughter regain her freedom.

Conti asked the prosecutor if Alexa could already be committed to a civilian jail facility. The soldiers objected. The fiscal asked police officers present on who had authority over the prisoner. The police said the soldiers merely informed them two days after the abduction that Alexa had been in their custody but was never in the PNP’s. The fiscal then said Alexa’s lawyers had to file a motion first before deciding on Conti’s request. (Alexa’s lawyer and family filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus at the Supreme Court Monday, September 23.)

Military intelligence operatives taking photos and videos of the proceedings and the activists present.

Alexa’s other lawyer, Taule, told Inquirer.net Saturday that the criminal charges filed against her proves the soldiers were lying.  “They can’t win over Alexa despite detention of seven days in their camp so their game now is to file charges,” she said. The military for its part said they still consider Alexa as a surrenderee, admitting, however, that things have changed since they made public Alexa’s so-called surrender document. Lt. Col. Dennis Cana, public information officer of the Philippine Army’s Southern Luzon Command, told Inquirer.net that Pacalda’s video message refuting the military’s claim “will have a very strong effect on her surrender status” as her sincerity to lay down her arms “is put into question.”

After the inquest proceeding, Alexa was quickly brought outside to a parked black pick-up truck with darkened windows. The Pacaldas were allowed the quickest of goodbyes. By then, more fellow human rights defenders from all over the province had gathered at the gate and managed to chant, “Alexa Pacalda, palayain!” as the soldiers’ convoy sped off back to their camp in Calauag.

Alexa’s family and colleagues shouted “Alexa Pacalda, palayain!” as the military convoy taking her back to Calauag, Quezon sped by.

Conti said she was glad to have assisted Alexa during the inquest. “She really did not surrender as the military claimed,” she said. She also pointed out that if indeed Alexa was in possession of a firearm and blasting caps, it was not the 201st IBPA’s role to arrest her. It was the PNP’s. Alexa’s case is obviously a case of unlawful arrest or abduction, she said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Relentless red-tagging in Cagayan de Oro ‘scary and dangerous’

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called on those behind the relentless red-tagging of human rights, media, church and lawyers’ organizations in Cagayan de Oro City to stop their activities as it “endangers lives.”

For the eighth time since February, the NUJP and other organizations and personalities were again listed in posters, this time plastered on the walls of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) church in Cagayan de Oro’s Barangay Agusan Sunday.

A poster red-tagging the NUJP and the NUPL found plastered on the wall of a church in Cagayan de Oro last Sunday. (NUJP photo)

Along with the NUJP, the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao-National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the IFI, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and others were listed as so-called fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The posters were signed by a shadowy group calling itself the Movement Against Terrorism-Northern Mindanao Region.

“The NUJP Cagayan de Oro City Chapter condemns this act, an act clearly meant to intimidate and silence a critical press,” the group’s statement, signed by its chapter president Pamela Jay Orias and NUJP Western Mindanao media safety officer JB Deveza, said Monday.

While denying it is a front for any organization, the NUJP said it will also not stand idly by while the truth is under persistent attack.

“[The NUJP] will not cower while the freedom of the press and the people’s right to truthful, accurate, and relevant information is under assault,” it said.

‘Scary’

Former NUJP director and Mindanao Gold Star Daily associate editor Cong Corrales said inclusion in the list is “scary, to say the least.”

Corrales is among the personalities listed by the posters and streamers that, at one time, had been displayed in his own village.

“[Mayroong] tarp din sinabit sa bridge facing Consolacion with the words may mga terrorist supporters dito sa [Barangay] Consolacion,” Corrales said.

A streamer red-tagging some residents of Barangay Consolacion in Cagayan de Oro. (Photo from Cong Corrales)

“Our Punong Barangay has already reported it to the police. Pero wala pa ring action,” he said.

Corrales said local officials should be asked to look into repeated red-tagging incidents in the city.

Corrales’ wife and son were, at one time, included in the list.

The veteran journalist has denied being a member of the underground groups.

“I feel they will not stop until one of us in the list is killed,” Corrales told Kodao.

The embattled journalist said he is taking safety precautions but believes the perpetrators know where he lives.

‘Not enemies of the state’

The NUJP said the people behind the red-tagging campaign must be reminded that a free press is guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution.

“Perhaps the people behind this despicable act need reminding that journalists are not enemies of the state. Perhaps the people behind these lies forget that journalists are just truth-tellers whose job serves the public interest,” the group added.

The group called on the perpetrators to stop the vilification campaign against the NUJP and against other rights organizations.

“Your lies endanger journalists; your lies put people’s lives at risk,” it said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The Great Pretender (NUPL Parody)

A “matrix” was released by the Office of the President last April 22, alleging media groups and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) as involved in the conspiracy to destabilize the Rodrigo Duterte government.

In this music video based on the popular The Platters song “The Great Pretender, some members of the NUPL sing their hearts out to protest the “association matrix” that links journalists and lawyers as purportedly behind a destabilization plot.

A hilarious–yet serious–allegation deserves no less.

‘Magic matrix’

“The source of that is from the Office of the President, from the President himself. I don’t know how he got one but it’s coming from the President. I talked to him the other day,” chief presidential legal adviser and presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Last April 16 in Tuguegarao City, Duterte said intelligence reports have been fed to him from “foreign” sources about the supposed coordinated media plot to discredit him. Panelo admitted that the President himself ordered him to release the matrix in a Malacañan press conference Monday, April 22.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Lawyers: Duterte a disgrace to the legal profession

Rodrigo Duterte is a disgrace to the legal profession, a lawyers’ group said after the president reportedly authorized the release of a matrix to the public yesterday alleging a destabilization plot by journalists and lawyers.

In the press conference in Quezon City this morning, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), named as among those involved in the destabilization plot to oust the president, said Duterte may have violated several laws in allowing a “foreign intelligence body” to launch surveillance operations against Filipino citizens.

“He is a big disappointment to the legal profession as he has abandoned all legal tenets,” NUPL chairperson and senatorial aspirant Neri Colmenares said.

Colmenares said Duterte, a lawyer, may have violated several laws in authorizing the release of the matrix naming the NUPL as well as Rappler, Vera Files and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) as among those seeking to destabilize the government.

Among the laws that may have been violated are the Anti-Wiretapping Law, the Data Protection Act, the Eletronic Engineering Act as well as Constitutional provisions on privacy, he added.

“Duterte is intolerant of dissent. Diyos niya ang intelligence reports. Lawyers like us should be ruled by evidence, which he and Panelo, also a lawyer, failed to present,” Colmenares explained.

NUPL recalled that Duterte announced last week he will get back at media organizations that came out with reports about the rise in his family’s wealth.

“In the coming weeks, I will return the favor. So [PCIJ], you better stop,” Duterte said.

NUPL secretary general Ephraim Cortez also said that the president may have also violated the Rules of Court allowing lawyers to represent anyone.

“[The matrix is] disturbing and without let up…designed to stifle dissent and is an attack against the legal profession,” Cortez said.

“It is doubly dangerous because it is peddled by Duterte himself, which means he is telling his foot soldiers it is open season for lawyers and journalists,” Cortez added.

The NUPL said they will raise Malacañan’s latest attack against them to the Supreme Court as a supplement to its Writ of Amparo petition filed last April 15 seeking protection for government state forces linking the human rights lawyers to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

The NUPL yesterday immediately denied it is involved in any plot to oust Duterte, saying its lawyers does not have time beyond defending their many clients. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUPL: Ouster plot allegation ‘absurd’

A progressive lawyers’ group slammed a news report linking it to an alleged ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling the story “an imagination gone berserk.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said The Manila Times story “Oust-Duterte plot bared” published today and bylined by its chairman emeritus Dante Ang “fantastic” and “libelous.”

“This has certainly gone over the walls of credulity. It is absolutely false, totally baseless and completely ludicrous,” the NUPL said in a statement.

Ang’s story alleged the group, along with independent media groups and journalists including Vera Files, Rappler and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) are involved in a plot to oust Duterte.

The first matrix presented in The Manila Times report.

“There is a plot to discredit the President and destabilize his government,” Ang’s story said, quoting a anonymous source in the Office of the President said.

“There’s an obvious pattern of close coordination among some media organizations for the timely publication of anti-Duterte stories,” the source supposedly told Ang.

The story added the plot is utilizing the media, planting fake news, distributing them to the friendly media outlets, whetting the people’s appetite, arousing their anger, manipulating public emotion, touching base with the Leftist organization, enlisting the support of the police and the military, then going for the “kill.”

It added that journalist Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files is serving as main distributor of the videos of a certain “Bikoy” accusing Duterte, son and former Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, senatorial aspirant Christopher “Bong” Go, among others as illegal drugs distributors.

The second matrix alleging Tordesillas acting as nexus of the distribution of videos accusing the Dutertes of having links with the illegal drug trade in the country.

“’Bikoy,’ obviously a pseudonym, was the source of the black propaganda, the matrix shows. From Bikoy, the stories go to Ellen Tordesillas, president of Vera Files, who acts as the nexus and distributor of the materials to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Rappler and the NUPL. These organizations, in turn, distribute the false narratives to their respective members,” Ang’s story said.

In a press briefing at the Malacañan Palace, presidential spokesperson and chief legal adviser Salvador Panelo said revealed Ang’s source was President Duterte himself.

“I was supposed to release this today. Naunahan lang ako ng Manila Times,” he said. (Manila Times was just ahead of me.)

Panelo said the matrix was the result of intelligence information gathered by foreign countries and shared to Malacañan.

‘Laying the ground for more attacks’

The NUPL however said their inclusion in the matrix is a mere bait to engage them in absurd and endless tit for tat to distract them from their human rights lawyering.

“[The allegations] would have been amusing were it not perilous to the safety, security, and liberty, if not the lives, of each of the 500 or so lawyers, law students, law professors, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers, and paralegals who are members of the NUPL in more than 20 chapters nationwide,” the NUPL said.

The NUPL said Ang’s story lacked evidence and credibility given his close association with Duterte and House of Representatives Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Basic it is that for evidence to be credible, it must not only be credible in itself but must also come from a credible source. And more so if it is cloaked under a fictituous anonymity that does not give the object of such calumny a fair chance to contest,” NUPL said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also scored Ang’s report, calling it “a marvel of unethical and amateurish writing.”

“Based on a single anonymous source and a matrix showing a web of threads so tenuous it would not hold up in the slightest breeze, Ang’s piece of claptrap wouldn’t even pass muster at any self-respecting high school publication,” the NUJP said in a statement.

“In fact, proof that the matrix, the source and the story are hogwash is the fact that former NUJP chair – AND former [Manila] Times editor – Inday Espina Varona is listed in the matrix as among NUPL members. She is neither a lawyer nor connected to the NUPL,” the group added.

The NUJP also said what Ang has done is similar to the narco-lists Duterte is fond of trotting which often amount to hit lists, death sentences without the benefit of trial.

“What we do fear is that this “revelation” could be a prelude to a crackdown against independent media and human rights lawyers,” the group said, adding that Ang should be held accountable should any harm come to those named in his article. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Mga abugado humingi ng proteksyon sa Korte Suprema

Nagtungo sa Korte Suprema sa Maynila ang grupong National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers o NUPL noong Abril 15 para maghain ng petisyon para sa Writ of Amparo at Writ of Habeas Data laban sa pananakot at harassment ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Sinamahan sila ng kanilang mga abugado mula sa Public Interest Law Center.

Ayon kay Atty. Edre Olalia, pangulo ng NUPL, layunin ng petisyon na mabigyan sila ng proteksyon ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman laban sa mga banta at red-tagging sa kanilang mga kasapi.

Kabilang sa mga respondent sa petisyon ay sina Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana at AFP Civil Military Operations Chief General Antonio Parlade Jr.

Isa si Parlade na inakusahan ang NUPL na supporter ng Communist Party of the Philippines at New Peoples Army subalit mariing pinabulaan ng grupo at sinabing walang basehan ang mga paratang nito.

Nababahala ang NUPL sa ganitong pananakot. Ayon sa kanila, simula nang manungkulan si Pangulong Duterte ay 36 abugado na ang napapatay.

Pinakahuli dito ay si Atty. Benjamin Ramos na upisyal ng NUPL sa Negros na pinaslang noong Nobyembre 2018 sa Kabankalan City. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)